“How one couple drew on the power of REALTOR ® friendship as their dream home flooded”

Under Water

FAIRFIELD, CA  — Ironically, we live on the water now. Our home backs up to a beautiful inlet where we can boat and watch the birds and hear the waves gently lapping on the shore.

I remember having a small panic attack one day when I looked at that water. I went outside and I saw the tide coming in. I called my husband Greg, and frantically asked if this looked normal to him. Was it too high? Would it reach the house? 

I have really good reasons for water damage worries. 

About five years ago, we bought our dream home on three acres of land in Fairfield, California. We weren’t really even looking for a home when this one caught our eye. On an evening drive, Greg and I were talking and dreaming and drove by a house that was for sale. I said it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but if the home down the street were to go on the market, oh boy, I would love that!

We rolled down that driveway towards this rustic farmhouse, with overgrown blackberries and space to dream. As we wandered around this obviously vacant home, we envisioned a vineyard, a large shop, and plenty of room for our grandkids to play. 

Well, time goes by and eventually our dear friend of more than 30 years, Debbie Mitchell of NextHome Signature Properties, let me know that my dream home was on the market as a bank repo. After some back and forth, and a round or two with the squatters who wouldn’t leave, the house was ours! 

We had so many dreams for this place. It was such a beautiful location. We began remodeling everything – and I mean everything. The whole house needed some work. Debbie was kind enough to let us live in her fifth wheel while the construction dust swirled. 

As our dreams began to take shape, we started getting to know our neighbors. Hesitantly, a neighbor said that she would feel bad if she didn’t say anything … but she was pretty sure this house flooded in heavy rain. But in California, in a drought, flooding is something that can be easily dismissed. And the inspection hadn’t mentioned anything. 

I didn’t think much of it until my daughter-in-law’s baby shower. All our closest family and friends, including Debbie, gathered at our new house for this happy occasion to take a look and hear our dreams and visions of what this beautiful, rustic farmhouse could be.

Suddenly, this concerned woman pulls into my driveway, frantically waving a folder and pointing saying “I have an easement on this property and that’s my well!” With Debbie by my side, she begins to tell me that she is our neighbor to the back. Her parents owned this land once – and in heavy rain it floods frequently and deeply. She said she used to canoe right where our house was. 

I didn’t even know where to start. 

Luckily, Debbie did. 

We compared deeds and looked at our preliminary title report. It was all wrong. Our neighbor had easements that cut right through our property, crushing Greg’s dream of building a large shop. Then December, January, and February came. 

It was awful. Once water starts pouring in, you can’t stop it. It’s the most helpless feeling. We were bailing and pumping and tried to save everything we could. Somehow the desperation helped us find enough adrenaline to lift our safe and appliances onto platforms that Greg quickly pulled together from wood and old shelving we were using to remodel the downstairs.

We survived the onset of winter. 

The third time the house flooded, I was out of the country; completely helpless as I heard the sound of water pouring while Greg told me what was going on. 

The first person to show up was Debbie’s husband, Steve, decked out in his waders. The water was so deep. He rescued our dogs and he and Debbie opened their home to them. At that point, there was nowhere else to go.   

The one thing you don’t realize when your home completely floods is that the water isn’t still. It is churning, moving beneath you. Sometimes an object will float by and you wonder how it got inside your house. I’m sure some of our things ended up in neighbors homes. It’s up to your waist and it smells. Oh, I will never forget that smell.

At this point, we knew that we couldn’t stay at the property. We had never hired an attorney before in our life. But we did now. We filed an ethics complaint to the local board of realtors, Department of Real Estate, and ultimately a lawsuit to rescind our contract for non-disclosure. For three long years, we paid the mortgage on a home we couldn’t live in while we stayed with friends. 

They were our refuge. When you go through something like that, your own personal village keeps you sane. And they did. 

After three years the nightmare was over, the lawsuit was finally settled. Our dear friend Debbie, who had been with us through it all, right by our side, was able to sell the damaged home and land once and for all. 

Then, she found us this new home. It has a great garage that Greg loves. And so much outdoor space. We have been in this house for two years now and, until you go through something like we did, I don’t think people realize what a beautiful thing it is to have your own space – to have a house you can call your own and know that you are safe there. It is such a blessing. 

Even after all the years, there are some things you never forget. The smell of mold and standing water is still triggering to me. When I look at the tide rising, I have to remind myself that this is normal and natural and beautiful. It is still taking time to look at water as a beautiful thing, not a destructive thing. But it is. I get to sit on my back porch and listen to water gently come in and go out. It is a beautiful thing. Home truly is a beautiful thing.

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Debbie Mitchell

Debbie Mitchell prides herself in delivering excellent customer service and a wonderful experience when servicing her buyers, sellers and agents.

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